Highway yet to be repaired, officials fear rain will throw it out of gear

Moazum Mohammad

Srinagar: Kashmir Valley’s only road link with the rest of the world remained either closed or erratically functional for the past fortnight, but the authority responsible for its upkeep is yet to repair its damaged portions.
Amid apprehensions that the Srinagar-Jammu highway might be closed for a long time if it rains again, Traffic department and Beacon has blamed National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) for failing to carry out the necessary repairs.
“Although it is not our job, we managed to procure the machinery needed for repairing the highway. But the NHAI is yet to do the repairs. Our men are meant to regulate traffic. It is their job to maintain it,” Inspector General of Police (Traffic) Muneer Khan told Kashmir Reader.
The government has sent several reminders to the NHAI to repair the road but to no avail.
“We don’t want that commuters should face problems. We fear that if it rains again, the road will get closed for a long time,” Khan said.
Landslides triggered by heavy rains damaged the 300-km-long torturous, hilly highway at as many as 99 spots recently. The blocked highway is an annual affair and the Valley has been crying for alternative, all-weather routes such as Mughal Road for a long time now.
The NHAI, which was assigned the multi-crore project to make the narrow highway into a four-lane road, has outsourced the work to a few companies. But none of these companies have come forward to carry out the repairs, an official said.
It has been learnt that except for Chenani-Nashri tunnel, the NHAI has accomplished no work yet. Traffic officials fear the badly damaged stretch at Magarkote can get blocked anytime by a mere drizzle.
Currently, only one-way traffic is allowed on the highway because of its pathetic condition.
According to NHAI regional officer RP Singh, the authority is yet to fully take over the highway. Also, he said, the badly damaged Nashri-Banihal stretch is maintained by Beacon and the NHAI cannot be blamed for its condition.
“We maintain Chenani-Nahsri and Qazigund-Panthachowk parts of the highway. It will take time and efforts are on to make it fit for smooth traffic again,” he added.
Beacon’s Chief Engineer, Brigadier Ashish Kumar Das, however, said his agency has no mandate to repair it, as the highway will be handed over to the NHAI on March 31.
“The road has been taken over by NHAI, and it had requested us to carry out snow and landslide clearance operations only. Restoration work takes 90 days and we can’t do it because it requires funds,” Das said.
“The NHAI has to undertake the (restoration) work. Whatever little we could do we did it so that the Valley doesn’t face shortage of essential commodities. The badly damaged Magarkote stretch needs major restoration as it is an active landslide zone,” he added.